Air Travel 101 – Baggage Etiquette

Air travel can be a challenge and airlines have not made it any easier in recent years. Instead of inventing ways to facilitate the process they seem to be complicating it.

Times are tough for everyone, so all the new fees for baggage, meals, and sometimes even beverages may make the airlines a few extra dollars but they also cause passengers to invent creative ways to circumvent these additional charges. This will be a series of articles on the trials and tribulations of airline travel, starting with one of my pet peeves – baggage.

With the advent of baggage fees, people now bring more items on board. It means the overhead bins are jammed to the gills. This causes a ripple effect that makes boarding and deplaning more time consuming and occasionally perilous when someone who can’t lift or hold their bag sends it crashing down on your head. (If you can’t lift it over your head – check it!)

I normally check a bag, despite the fees, to avoid the overhead battles, and also because I normally have a laptop case and it won’t fit under the seat unless you’re in a middle seat (which almost no one intentionally chooses). However, after being charged an obscene $150 for a third checked bag on a Continental international flight, I too am looking for ways to economize (I would be gone an extended period – I wasn’t just over packing). This is especially disheartening when I get to the gate only to have them announce free checked baggage as they look around and realize everyone’s carryon items will never fit in the overheads.

The message they are sending is if you follow the guidelines and check your bags up front, you will essentially be punished by a fee; therefore, try to bring everything on board, and chances are they’ll check it for free. People should not be penalized for trying to do the right thing.

There are signs and rules posted all over about not only carryon size limits, but the proper way to place a roller bag in the overhead, accompanied by verbal announcements by airline staff while boarding, but people either aren’t listening, can’t read, or are generally arrogant enough to believe these policies don’t apply to them.

Despite the written and verbal advice folks still put their roller bags in sideways, taking up twice the space they should; put more than one item in the overhead; or think their jacket should have a space of its own, even though each overhead bin is supposed to be shared by six to nine passengers. Because the space between seats has shrunk, people are reluctant to put anything at their feet, either. Unless you’re at or under 5’ tall, deep vein thrombosis is a real threat if you place an item under the seat in front of you where your legs would normally have their wiggle room.

It’s extremely rare when an airline employee enforces any of the size or quantity rules. Nearly every flight I’m on there is someone with a roller bag that would not fit in the metal sizing display they have at the gate, yet the only time I saw that rule enforced in the United States was briefly after 9/11; though I do see it occasionally overseas.

As my income shrinks, not unlike the airlines, I was recently “working the system” by trying to save the $70 second checked bag fee on an international flight (for a miniature 17” model suitcase), fully expecting to check it for free at the gate. Needless to say, I was shocked when confronted at the airport prior to entering the security line about having two carryons and a purse. I was able to shove my purse into one of the carryons, but was annoyed to see at least two other people with three items standing in the same security lines. It’s rare that I don’t’ see someone with three items boarding a plane – primarily business travelers, but also people who have purchased items inside the airport. If the rules are going to be enforced, they it should be across the board for everyone at every check point.

A little common sense, common courtesy, and common application of rules and policies would go a long way towards improving air travel and passenger satisfaction, and would likely make the jobs of the flight attendants easier, as well.

— Postscript

How can budget airline Southwest still continue to offer free checked bags?  There are a number of things I do not like about Southwest airlines, but they certainly know how to manage their finances better than the bigger airlines.  Instead of nickel and diming passengers to death, maybe the big airlines should take a closer look at how Southwest can offer free checked baggage and still turn a profit.

Posted in Social Commentary | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Discontinued

Doesn’t it seem that just when you find a product you really like; the next thing you know it has been discontinued? Sometimes it’s something you’ve been using for years that mysteriously disappears from store shelves. Either way it can be frustrating re-starting the process of finding that ideal product, whether it’s your favorite pair of jeans, favorite food, favorite shade of lipstick, favorite perfume, or favorite shoes.

I can understand why companies would remove a relatively new product if sales don’t meet expectations, but when it’s a tried and true item that’s been around for years and is a popular seller, it’s not quite as easy to fathom.

Even when a product is successful, manufacturers can’t help but decide they know best and come out with an “improved” version at some point in time. Sometimes the new edition works, and other times, it doesn’t. Some of the most popular brand names have had to revert to their “classic” counterparts as the new and improved product just did not impress loyal customers.

Based on a recent internet search, my favorite New Balance walking shoes (trainers/sneakers) appear to have fallen on the chopping block. These weren’t an in-one-day-out-the-next phenomenon – I’ve lost track of the number of years I’ve been wearing this particular model. It was nice to just order a pair online without having to test drive them in the store. New shoes are difficult to buy without a trial run, at least for me. I need to try them on, walk around a little, make sure I can wear them more than five minutes without discomfort. Once I know a certain shoe fits well and is comfortable, I can order additional pairs online in other colors or new ones when they wear out, but the first time really requires in-person fitting. Some stores do offer free outbound and return shipping, but it can be extraordinarily time consuming trying to return something, especially if you aren’t quite sure what you want, or need to try several different styles, brands, or sizes.

It’s not just the hassle of finding a replacement product – sometimes the product disappears entirely. When this happens, it can take with it some very strong rooted memories. Take for instance the Wisconsin Candy Raisin. When NECCO bought Stark Candy Company in 2008 they discontinued this beloved treat. A huge uproar ensued including a grass roots effort to reinstate the confection by current and ex-Wisconsinites (myself included), to no avail. An entire sub-generation of baby boomers went into deep mourning at the loss of what can be likened to a childhood friend. From what I’ve read, the new company also refuses to divulge the recipe. How cruel is that? Even though one company decides it’s not economical to produce the product, why not sell the recipe to a niche company willing to do so if the demand exists? Are they afraid their decision might be proven wrong?

These merely represent a sampling of the disconnect between corporations and consumers.

Posted in Social Commentary | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Are You Listening?

Maybe the question should be what are you listening to? So many people seem to be walking around these days wearing headphones (and Bluetooth headsets, which make them look like they’re candidates for the local padded room, wandering around talking to themselves, but that’s an entirely separate topic). This phenomenon does not appear to be purely generational – I’ve seen young and old alike, though the younger crowd does represent the majority.

Fortunately, few of them have their volume turned up to a point where outsiders can listen along. However, you do have to wonder if they can hear anything around them; you know, the car about to run them over and such. What are people trying to block out? Have we been under a barrage from so many information sources in our modern world that we must be constantly bombarding our senses?

I’m a great lover of music. It really can sooth the savagery of a difficult day; lift you to new heights; recall fond memories (or sad ones); and brighten just about any day. However, I don’t feel the need to have it piped into my senses all day every day.

There is a special music that comes from the land itself which can produce the same effect as your favorite tune. Whether it’s the hum of traffic or the squeak of a bicycle wheel, there is a cacophony of sounds available around us. No matter how bad your day may have gone, who doesn’t smile at the sound of a child’s laughter?

Nature supplies plenty of her own background music. The wind really does whistle and can blow a tune through the hollow pipes of a gate or guard rail. It can also rustle leaves on the ground and in the trees. Birds, engaged in conversation, can be as soothing as a whisper; though they can also be as annoying as an argument. Rushing water is one of my favorite sounds; waves lapping against the breakers or crashing on shore. I find it as comforting as any piece of my favorite music.

If you listen very closely, even the land emits a hum, reminding us there is life going on all around us. All these things are easily missed or overlooked if you’re constantly trying to block out the world. Try listening to the music of the land once in a while. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Posted in Music, Nature, Social Commentary | Tagged , | Leave a comment

To Tuck or Not to Tuck, That is the Question

Occasionally I see women on the street who have the tags from their shirts, blouses, or other clothing items sticking out. This seems to be primarily a woman’s issue, as I rarely, if ever, see it on a man. Women with short hair are more vulnerable to having their tags exposed, yet men typically have short hair and never seem to have this problem.

It must have to do with the way they make clothing for the different sexes; which of course makes me wonder why? Why would you make a shirt where the tag could stick up and out for all to see for a woman, but not a man?

There’s a new trend in women’s clothing, either aimed to avert this issue or as a money saving feature, whereby the information normally reserved for the tag is printed right onto the cloth itself. It’s not a trend I particularly care for. Tags can be snipped off when you want to disguise the fact that this particular item had to be purchased in an extra large instead of a large, or whatever particular size you’re trying to hide. There isn’t an easy way to remove the aforesaid markings printed directly onto the fabric.

My long hair generally hides these minor offenses, but when I do see a woman with a tag showing I often wonder whether to mention it or not. It’s easy if it’s someone I know – I would definitely tell them. But what about a total stranger? It can be awkward and embarrassing to find out you’ve been walking around all day with that little white flag flying freely for all to see. I think I would want to be told but would be interested in hearing from other women. Feel free to use the comment section to post your opinion – would you want to be told to tuck or not?

Posted in Social Commentary | Tagged | Leave a comment

Universal Languages

Whether you speak English, French, German, Irish, or any of the other languages of the world, and whatever your cultural upbringing, people readily unite over music and children.

Music is a universal language that can be enjoyed by anyone of any tongue or background. People all over the world sing along to songs even though they may not understand the lyrics, because the music touches their soul. It could be rock and roll, pop, opera, classical, or any of the other genres, but music has the ability to reach past boundaries that might normally keep us apart.

“Music…It’ll break all language barriers.” – Paddy Keenan from the film Dambé – The Mali Project

Small children are great uniters as well. Few people can help but smile and fuss over an infant or small child, whether you are acquainted with that child or not. I’ve seen this phenomenon everywhere from hometown shopping malls to airports in foreign countries. I have no problem smiling, waving, or saying hello to a curious child as I pass them by, likely never to see most of them again.

A friend of mine recently related an experience that proves this point. Although she is half Danish, she had trouble being accepted in the country because of her French (other half) appearance. However, as she took her blond haired, pale blue eyed toddler to visit relatives in Denmark, she found herself for the first time, welcomed as one of their own.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could spend more time concentrating on the things that unite us rather than focusing on our differences and divisions? The world would certainly be a better place.

Posted in Music, Social Commentary | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Independence Day

Pop, pop, pop, the firecrackers ignite. Pop, pop, pop the gunshots echo. Ka-boom is the sound we hear as a firework is launched into the sky and ka-boom is what reverberates as a bomb buried just below the surface of the road explodes.

Isn’t it ironic that the same sounds we hear every Independence Day as we celebrate our freedom are the same sounds heard by the soldiers who fight and die to give us that freedom? As we continue year after year to celebrate in this fashion, they continue year after year to fight and die for freedom.

What goes through the mind of a soldier, newly returned from the battlefield, on that 4th of July night as the firecrackers pop? Does that M80 rumble like a mortar shell?

During the waking hours, it’s a little easier to differentiate between environments. The sights are different. The smells are different. The people around them are different. There’s no rifle slung over his/her shoulder or hand gun tucked tightly into their belt. However, some of the sounds; those echoes of celebration and war are still the same.

What happens at night time, sleep time? Do they wake up with a start and reach over to where their weapon should be? Do they rouse in a cold sweat; memories rushing back from hidden places? Do they embrace their spouse or significant other for re-assurance? Do they rise to check on their sleeping children; calmed, somewhat, by their tiny, sleeping, safe bodies? Do they sit in a chair; wondering if they could have done anything different; wondering why they survived while others perished; wondering if they’ll ever hear a firecracker with the innocence of a child again; wondering if there isn’t a better way?

As you light your fireworks to celebrate Independence Day, remember the soldiers – what they’ve been through and what they continue to go through. Don’t stop lighting them for fear it will frighten a veteran – fireworks have become such an integral part of our celebration of freedom that they can no longer be separated. Perhaps the noise is the same for a reason. Maybe it should remind us of the wars that have been fought which allow us to continue this commemoration each year. Quite possibly, this convergence of sounds is necessary to reconcile the celebration with the sacrifice.

Make sure you always spare a thought for the military as part of your celebration. The ones who are here and those who are far away; the ones who made it back and those left behind; the ones who still fight and those who will fight soon. Thank them in your minds and hearts for their sacrifices. Thank them with your cards and letters; verbally or symbolically as you pass them on the street. And of course, wave that flag proudly, the enduring symbol of freedom.

Posted in Social Commentary | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Toys for Tots

In this 21st century it seems like far too many kids are loaded down with toys and gadgets; especially young ones. However, it’s amazing how little children need to amuse themselves.

How many toddlers spend more hours playing in the pots and pans or Tupperware drawers of the kitchen instead of with the fancy new toy of the month/year you just bought? Have you ever been disappointed that the amazing new plaything you gave them for their birthday was abandoned in favor of the box in which it came? If only they could keep that innocence and ignorance of materialism longer.

What you need to do is give them tools, similar to building blocks, and let them construct their own house/barn/castle – particularly when they are young and have no preconceived notions or expectations. Let them experiment – sometimes the walls will fall down but they will learn to build better, stronger ones.

I recently watched a child of between 5 and 6 years old playing happily with an empty laundry soap jug. He was tossing it in the air back over his head to see how far it would land. It wasn’t the newest baseball, football, or even a ball at all, but an empty plastic jug. In the absence of a defined purpose, he was forced to use his own creativity to devise a way to play with the object, and appeared perfectly content with this imagined game. There was no sign that he was impoverished or deprived; merely placed in a situation where he had to use his mind instead of having everything laid out for him.

Are these children the next Einstein’s, Beethoven’s, or Picasso’s? Even the mighty Bill Gates didn’t grow up with a cell phone, mp3 player, or video game and he seems to have done quite well for himself. That’s not to say that the next generations won’t produce their own set of exceptional artists, musicians, and inventors, but in order to achieve the level of creativity required to be at the top of your game in any field, it starts with exercising your brain in new and different ways; by questioning everything; and thinking for yourself instead of accepting everything that is handed to you. If we can foster that imagination and creativity at a very young age, the possibilities are endless.

Posted in Social Commentary | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Looks or Personality?

If you could choose only one aspect of your soul mate, would you choose looks or personality? Though many would want both, if you only had one choice, and for the sake of argument, you were to be with this person, ‘till death do you part,’ which aspect would you choose? It’s an interesting dilemma. Does your brain and mouth say one thing while your eyes and other bits speak otherwise?

I recently watched a British show called “Dating in the Dark.” It’s not something I would normally watch. I’ve never even seen an episode of “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette” or any of the similar programs, as they tend to feature only the “beautiful” and “perfect” people, making the rest of us feel dowdy and inferior. As if we need any help when we are bombarded with air brushed newspaper and magazine photos as well as Photoshopped1 internet versions. However, this program at least sounded different.

A group of men and women would get to know each other in a dark room, first in a group setting and then by choosing each other for one on one sessions. Once they decided if they liked one of these potential partners, they would have a reveal. Then they could choose whether to pursue the relationship. Could personality really trump looks? Could my faith in our model-obsessed world be restored?

I’m sorry to say that when push came to shove; it all came down to looks. One particular couple who really hit it off in the dark with complimentary personalities, decided not to date, as the looks weren’t what they were expecting.

Now, admittedly, these were 20-something’s, who are still very young and ‘in the moment’. Yet, it was discouraging, none the less. It appears the Cabbage Patches2 among us, myself included, will just have to continue swimming upstream, trying not to drown in that sea of Barbie’s3.

(1. Photoshop – a product of Adobe Systems, http://www.adobe.com; 2. Cabbage Patch Kids – currently manufactured by Play Along Kids, original, hand made still available at http://www.cabbagepatchkids.com; 3. Barbie Doll -a Mattel product, http://www.barbie.com)

Posted in Social Commentary | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Tainted Apple

Let me start this by saying I really do like Apple product and believe they are top quality. However, I do think their sales and marketing practices are anti-competitive, and I am surprised they haven’t run afoul of such things as laws against price fixing.

You almost never see an Apple product on sale – I mean a real sale, not one or two dollars off. It’s fairly obvious that they require their retailers to sell at their price or they aren’t allowed to sell the products.

When I made my most recent laptop purchases, I really looked hard at Apple’s offerings, and would have preferred to purchase at least one, but found it hard to justify paying two to three times the price for a similar item. What I can’t figure out is why companies like Apple don’t realize that they can sell more products at a reasonable price, making the same amount of profit over a higher volume. If you really do have a superior product, which in many cases they do, why would you not want it in more households? Why the elitist attitude?

If I could purchase Apple products at even 25-50% above the competitions price, instead of 300% above, I would trade in all of my Microsoft Window’s based gear for Apples, without thinking twice. However, at the current price points, it’s just not smart economics; especially in these difficult economic times. Computers, whoever the manufacturer, have relatively short lifecycles as technology evolves. Most folks can’t afford to buy the top of the line only to have to replace it again every 3-5 years.

Then, today I read how Apple is trying to squash promotions and giveaways of its products by companies running contests:

http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2011/06/01/apple-tries-to-put-the-kibosh-on-ipad-and-iphone-giveaways/?iid=Popular

Come on Apple, is that really necessary? Most manufacturers would leap at the chance to have companies give away a few of their products. The people who are the lucky recipients of these contests will not only enjoy the products themselves, but brag about how great the product is to their friends and family, encouraging them to purchase their own. They also spawn related purchases like I-Tunes cards to purchase applications as well as music at the I-Tunes stores, as well as a myriad of accessories – carrying cases, plug-ins, adaptors, etc. It’s a win-win for the entire industry.

Maybe it’s time to switch the marketing strategy and encourage people to buy Apple products and get them into more households around the world instead of discouraging them by these anti-competitive practices. They are great products and they should be available to more than just those with deep pockets.

Posted in Social Commentary | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Sale Price Is…

In the good old days, if something went on sale, the original price was reduced to the new sale price. Things were clearly posted, and you could easily determine how much something cost. Not so much anymore.

Becoming as rare as a landline phone, percentage discounts are being replaced with buy X get Y free or quantity S for the price of T. The BOGO (buy one get one free) promotions easy enough to understand, it’s essentially half off each item. However, just how much of a discount is buy 2 get 1 free? What is the net cost of each item?

If you think stores are just trying to help us avoid multiplication and fractions to determine prices, think again. They may be giving the same discounts they used to, but they are adjusting your mindset and actually trying to convince you to buy more.

Take BOGO for example, which is the same as a 50% discount. Yet you are now purchasing two items instead of one. If they just offered 50% off, you’d more likely only buy one of those items instead of two. The same goes for the increasingly popular 3 for 2 sales – buy two get the third one free. (That’s a 33-1/3% reduction on each item for the math challenged out there.) But again, you have to buy all 3 items to get the discount – you can’t just buy one item at 1/3 off. What happens if you don’t want or need 3 items? You aren’t allowed to get the savings.

Those 3 for 3, 5 for 5 or 10 for 10 sales may sound enticing – only 1 dollar/euro per item. However, if you’re not careful, you may not get that discount either. Some stores require that you buy the entire quantity to get the sale price. Even if they don’t have it in the fine print that you have to buy the exact quantity, the reason they have it advertised as S for T is to try and get you to buy quantity S, whether you need that many or not. Even if you’re sitting there saying to yourself, “well I don’t fall for that – I only buy as many as I need,” enough people do that they continue to market it that way instead of just saying 1 dollar/euro each.

What if you’re a small household of one or two people? Do you really need 3 of something, which may equate to a year’s supply? Or you may not have enough money that shopping trip to buy two at full price to get the third one free. Then you either don’t buy the item, because it’s not on sale at a single quantity price, or you get penalized and pay the full price for just purchasing one. Is it fair? Of course, not. However marketing has never been about fairness – it’s about getting the customer into your shop and keeping as many of their dollars/euros as you can.

Posted in Social Commentary | Tagged , , | Leave a comment